Southern Grampians Shire Council released its 2023/24 Draft Budget Long-Term Financial Plan 2023-2033 and Pricing Register at last night’s May council meeting and is now asking residents across the Shire to comment on the draft documents before May 29.

Highlights of the 2023/24 Draft Budget include $6.1m for roads comprising $2.5m for reseals, $600k gravel re-sheets and $3m in road rehabilitation. There is $150,000 for footpaths and missing links, $225,000 in renewal and $225,000 for rail trail crossings (specifically for the Coleraine Rail Trail). $550,000 has been allocated for drainage trouble spots including King Street Hamilton.

Council has set aside funding for detailed design of its major infrastructure projects, including $1m for the New Government Hub (library, digital Hub, Cinema and Office), $3.55m for the New Hamilton Gallery and $600,000 for the CBD Streetscape.

There has also been an increase in funding allocated to Senior Citizens programs and support, children’s services, community planning and engagement, and recreation development.

To fund the $86.5m budget, Council has proposed a rate increase of 3.5% across the shire, in line with the rate cap set by the Minister for Local Government. Council also proposes to borrow $8m to ensure the completion of key community infrastructure projects.

Mayor Councillor David Robertson said the 2023/24 Draft Budget had been planned against a “very challenging financial environment”.

“For a second year in a row, there has been a substantial difference between the rate cap – imposed by the State Government – and inflation,” said Cr Robertson.

“In the 2022/23 financial year, the rate cap was 1.75%, with inflation peaking at around 7%. In the 2021-22 financial year, our rate cap was 1.50% with inflation peaking at 6.10%. This represents a substantial gap between Councils ability to raise revenue and its cost to operate.”

Cr Robertson said this challenge was accentuated by the fact that construction costs, a significant part of every Council budget, has been rising by a significantly higher rate than inflation.

“This budget will see many multi-year projects come to fruition as well as introduce some new projects, which are essential to see the Shire grow and thrive in a modern culturally diverse community,” he said.

“Our focus has been and will continue to be on the renewal and redevelopment of some key community infrastructure assets. Much of this work is funded from external sources, however Council will need to borrow additional $8m in funds to ensure these assets are fit for purpose and meet the needs and expectations of coming generations.”

“This infrastructure will be a lasting legacy for everyone, providing benefits to generations to come in our Shire.

“There are always some risks in a large capital spend, and while our Long Term Financial Plan shows Council increasing debt to deliver this projects, we believe we have done the appropriate planning and demonstrating capacity to manage and repay this debt over the long term, ” Cr Robertson said.

Highlights of the proposed $40.342m capital program include the following:

Key projects to be finalised in the 2023/24 financial year:

• Melville Oval facilities upgrade.

• Dunkeld- Mount Sturgeon Loop Walk.

• Cox Street precinct development.

New projects to start in the 2023/24 financial year include:

• Detailed design of New Hamilton Gallery.

• Detailed design for a new Government Hub, including a Digital Hub, new Library, new cinema and office space.

• A renewal program for our aged outdoor swimming pools.

• Hamilton CBD streetscape detailed design.

Maintenance and renewal of assets will continue, with spending in the following areas:

• Building renewals and minor upgrades across the Shire to community facilities including Coleraine Silvester Oval, Cavendish Preschool, Coleraine Mechanics Institute Hall, Balmoral RSL, Hamilton Mechanics’ Institute Hall, and Carapook Hall.

• Sporting facility renewals at Mitchell Park Cricket Rooms and Hamilton Indoor Leisure and Aquatic Centre.

• Public Toilet upgrades at Mitchell Square (IGA Carpark) in Hamilton, and Penshurst Hall and design and construction of a new toilet block in Glenthompson.

• Continued and increased investment in Infrastructure assets such as roads, bridges and culverts, drainage, footpaths, vehicles, and equipment.

• Reinvestment in technology to support both customers and staff operations including a CCTV staged rollout.

• Renewal of books and resources for both our branch and mobile library.

• Drainage and carpark works at Pedrina Park, Hamilton, and Coleraine’s Silvester Oval.

Projects that will assist in more efficient operations, enhance safety measures, or increase revenue generation include:

• Renewal of parking meters within the Hamilton CBD.

• Investment into waste facilities and options implementation systems including artificial intelligence solutions.

• Pedestrian crossing and carparking improvements at the Hamilton Showgrounds.

• Cattle yard and walkway modifications at the Hamilton Region Livestock Exchange.

• Detailed design of flood defence at both Coleraine and Dunkeld townships.

The Draft 2023/24 Operating Budget forecasts an operating surplus of $6.951m and Council anticipates to hold $4.554m cash at 30 June 2024.

The municipal charge will increase from $209 to $216 (this is a 3.35% increase bringing the total collected to 10% of rate revenue).

General rates and municipal charges are levied in accordance with Council’s Revenue and Rating Plan 2023/24-2026/27 – adopted by Council on 8 December 2022.

The service charge will increase from $360 to $385 for all improved residential properties in the Hamilton, Balmoral, Branxholme, Byaduk, Byaduk North, Cavendish, Coleraine, Dunkeld, Glenthompson, Penshurst and Tarrington urban areas and as defined in the “refuse collection areas” for the collection and disposal of refuse, recycling and organic waste.

“Councillors took on board the feedback from the community in our pre-budget development survey and have developed a draft budget we feel is reflective of the goals and aspirations of our community.

“Now that the Draft Budget has been released, we’d appreciate if residents from across the Shire can provide us with feedback prior to the Budget’s adoption at the June council meeting,” he said.

Copies of the Draft Budget are available from Council Customer Service Centre at 111 Brown Street, Hamilton and at the Hamilton Library. You can also go online at www.sthgrampians.vic.gov.au and record feedback via the ‘have your say’ page.

Adoption of the 2023/24 Draft Budget, Long Term Financial Plan 2023-2033 and Pricing Register will be considered on Wednesday 21 June 2023, taking into account any public feedback received.

/Public Release. View in full here.